Creative Space Beirut: Where only talent matters

Sunday 14/05/2017
Fostering talents. Model displaying the design of a graduate of Creative Space Beirut at a fashion show, last December. (Carl Halal)

Beirut - Young men and women concentrating on manip­ulating scissors cutting fabric or drawing patterns on parchment paper can hardly believe that they are achiev­ing a dream that was so far-fetched a short while ago.

Najah Ghrayeb is among nine stu­dents seeking to fulfil their aspira­tions at Creative Space Beirut (CSB), a free fashion design school in Leba­non.

“Since I was a child I dreamed about fashion design but I was re­signed that it was not possible for me to do fashion studies because the tuition is exorbitant. So I studied biochemistry at the Lebanese Uni­versity instead, but my heart was always with fashion design,” said Ghrayeb, 22, who joined the 3-year programme last October.

Ghrayeb’s talents and those of her classmates are being fostered thanks to the initiative of Sarah Hermez, a Lebanese-American fashion design­er and co-founder of CSB, who aims to empower Lebanon’s underprivi­leged youth through fashion.

“At CSB, we believe in free educa­tion and the importance of fostering talent,” Hermez said. “We look for individuals from across Lebanon who have the passion and the tal­ent but could not for some reason or another pursue fashion design studies.

“There are so many talented peo­ple and they deserve a chance. This is their only chance to become fash­ion designers, and they are so hun­gry for it, really dedicating all their time and energy.”

CSB, founded in 2011 by Hermez and Caroline Simonelli, her profes­sor at New York’s Parsons School of Design, combined Hermez’s pas­sions for creativity and humanitar­ian work.

“I always felt that it was very un­fair that just because I come from a more privileged background I was allowed the opportunity to go to New York and pursue my passion while there are so many people who are more talented than me and do not get that chance and they end up working in supermarkets or doing other things,” Hermez said.

CSB graduated its first four stu­dents in December after three years of intensive work that culminated with the school’s first fashion show featuring the students’ collections.

“One of our graduates was ac­cepted in a university in Milan through the portfolio she built here and found a sponsor. Another got accepted to Starch, which is a (local) platform that launches young de­signers’ brands through their bou­tiques,” Hermez said.

Although the school is not ac­credited and its diploma not rec­ognised officially, students follow a comprehensive and diverse curricu­lum taught by mostly volunteer in­structors, including Simonelli, from leading schools.

“We collaborate with different de­signers and teach different courses internationally and locally,” Hermez said. “At the end of the day the pa­per doesn’t mean much. What is re­ally important is the portfolio they build and the connections and net­working they make while they are here.”

Hermez hopes to expand the pro­ject, attracting sponsorships and developing a reputation as a design school and label. She said she also hoped the programme could gener­ate revenues by selling the students’ designs, with a percentage going to the student designers.

“We have developed an in-house brand — CSB Ready to Wear — and hope to start selling in different places in Lebanon and even around the world. We also started a brand called Second Street. Our goal is to sustain the fashion programme,” she said.

CSB students come from differ­ent backgrounds and nationalities and include Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

“Creativity and talent is the cri­teria here,” said fashion design teacher Misak Hadjabekian, who has been teaching at CSB since it opened in 2011.

“They (students) are amazing kids, who are here to learn and to prove themselves. It is not because they can afford it but because they have the talent and the passion for it,” added Hadjabekian, who also teaches at the Lebanese Ameri­can University’s fashion design school set up in collaboration with renowned Lebanese designer Elie Saab.

For Ahmad Amer, who will be graduating at the end of the year, being accepted at CSB was a turning point. He turned his back on interior architecture studies he was follow­ing at the Lebanese University to pursue his passion. “Being here was a starting point for what I’ve always wanted since I was a kid. I love to design clothes, especially evening ready-to-wear dresses,” said Amer as he drew dress forms.

Ghrayeb said she was grateful for the opportunity that CSB gave her to make “a dream comes true”.

“Here, I am part of something that is very noble,” she said. “It is all for free, it is so selfless, and I hope that if, God willing, I can achieve something I want to give back.”

CSB’s concept reflects the convic­tions and beliefs of its founders.

“We believe in equal opportu­nity,” Hermez said. “That’s why we search for talents no matter what background they come from.”